Posted on Wed, 30 Sep 09
Adopting a traditional Mediterranean style diet is a powerful way to optimise your health and prevent life threatening diseases (1). And the good news is you don't have to move to the Mediterranean to benefit.
Food as medicine
An unprecedented analysis of more than 1.5 million people found that eating a Mediterranean style diet lengthens your life and reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (2). A Mediterranean diet may also benefit weight loss, depression, erectile dysfunction, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cognitive decline, osteoporosis and autoimmune disease to name a few (3-7).
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
Studies on the Mediterranean diet have found that it is the whole pattern, not simply individual components such as red wine or olive oil that are protective (8). This observation speaks to the importance of adopting several elements of the Mediterranean food pattern for the greatest benefit. Below are some simple steps you can take to adopt healthy eating habits characteristic of a traditional Mediterranean way of eating (9-13).
Cover at least 50% of your plate with a wide variety of vegetables (excluding potatoes), preferably fresh, seasonal and organic.
Aim to eat a salad of green leafy vegetables dressed with vinegar and olive oil daily.
Eat a variety of fresh fruits regularly.
Choose high-fibre, low glycemic index carbohydrates such as whole grains and legumes. Regularly exchange them for vegetables if you aim to loose weight.
Eat protein rich foods with most meals. Fish, eggs and poultry are best. Eat lean red meat, in small amounts and less frequently. Although not traditionally Mediterranean, soy foods are a healthy option.
Consume nuts such as almonds and walnuts regularly, roughly a small handful a day.
Use extra virgin olive oil in cooking and food preparation.
Regularly add garlic, onions, herbs and spices to your cooking for their flavour and immense nutritional value.
An occasional alcoholic drink, 1 glass, with your evening meal is beneficial if you don’t have a history of alcohol abuse. If you are a non drinker, don’t start.
Keep serving sizes modest, chew food well and eat in a relaxed environment.
Eat to live
A traditional Mediterranean style eating pattern based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fish, eggs, poultry, lean meats, olive oil and modest amounts of alcohol with meals is a simple and practical way to ensure a long and healthy life. However, a professionally guided, comprehensive and individualised eating plan is the best way to achieve lasting change (14).
1. Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Bes-Rastrollo M, Serra-Majem L, et al. Mediterranean food pattern and the primary prevention of chronic disease: recent developments. Nutr Rev. 2009 May;67 Suppl 1:S111-6.
2. Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R,et al. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ 2008;337:a1344
3. Buckland G, Bach A, Serra-Majem L. Obesity and the Mediterranean diet: a systematic review of observational and intervention studies. Obes Rev. 2008 Nov;9(6):582-93
4. Sánchez-Villegas A et al. Mediterranean diet and depression. Public Health Nutr.
5. Giugliano D, Giugliano F, Esposito K. Sexual dysfunction and the Mediterranean diet.Public Health Nutr. 2006 Dec;9(8A):1118-20
6. Esposito K, Maiorino MI, Ciotola M, et al. Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on the need for antihyperglycemic drug therapy in patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2009 Sep 1;151(5):306-14.
7. Pérez-López FR, Chedraui P, Haya J, Cuadros JL. Effects of the Mediterranean diet on longevity and age-related morbid conditions. Maturitas. 2009 Aug 31. [Epub ahead of print]
8. Hu FB. The Mediterranean diet and mortality--olive oil and beyond. N Engl J Med. 2003 Jun 26;348(26):2595-6.
9. O'Keefe JH, Gheewala NM, O'Keefe JO. Dietary strategies for improving post-prandial glucose, lipids, inflammation, and cardiovascular health. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Jan 22;51(3):249-55.
10. Saura-Calixto F, Goñi I. Definition of the Mediterranean diet based on bioactive compounds. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Feb;49(2):145-52.
11. Ortega RM. Importance of functional foods in the Mediterranean diet. Public Health Nutr. 2006 Dec;9(8A):1136-40.
12. Panagiotakos DB, Pitsavos C, Stefanadis C. Dietary patterns: a Mediterranean diet score and its relation to clinical and biological markers of cardiovascular disease risk. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2006 Dec;16(8):559-68.
13. Trichopoulou A, Bamia C, Trichopoulos D. Anatomy of health effects of Mediterranean diet: Greek EPIC prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2009 Jun 23;338
14. Wadden T et al. Efficacy of Lifestyle Modification for Long-Term Weight Control. Obes Res. 2004; 12: 151S-162S.